O2 Academy, Oxford
11th March 2013
South Londoner Jessie Ware’s debut album, Devotion, was a pop album that popped up in many critics’ best of 2012 lists – no mean feat. All the while, I hadn’t been able to shift the fact that she reminds me of mid 80s Stock/Aitken/Waterman-backed pop-soul chanteuse Princess. Great as Princess’s voice was, her material didn’t exactly set the world alight, and Jessie’s voice had hitherto unmoved me, too; it seemed too measured, perhaps without the depth promised.
However, on tonight’s evidence her voice seems to have matured, and it’s stunning. Her brand of pop/soul/R&B – to which she graduated successfully via the now requisite urban/dance collaborations, most notably with SBTRKT and Sampha – recalls such exemplars of the genre as Sade; Sweet Talk is basically a faster Your Love is King with fuzzy guitar instead of saxophone. She’s still restrained and subtle – there’s no superfluity of either notes or feeling – and as such, she far more effectively conveys lyrical meaning than the melismatic foghorns the charts are stuffed with these days. Her voice has convinced me that I’ll be her Night Light, there when she goes to sleep; I don’t have many doubts that in her and her baby’s Wildest Moments, they could be the worst of all.
While her vocal performance is stronger than her recordings led me to believe it might be, her aura – her stage presence – doesn’t quite match it for me. It’s not the chat – she is as charming as Adele between songs, dedicating songs to her brother and cousin, and giving shouts out to her mum and aunt on the merchandise stand – or her poise; I just feel, tonight at least, that she hasn’t found the perfect balance between these and the elegance of her voice yet, but it’s quite exciting that it’ll develop as her stature grows, and that there’s more to come.